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Versus: Tyree Wilson continues to adapt to different roles across the defensive line

Things are getting down to the wire for the Las Vegas Raiders with three games remaining in the 2023 season.

After their dominant showing against the Los Angeles Chargers 63-21, they have a little more time to rest up before playing another division opponent on Christmas Day. The Silver and Black are hoping to split their season series with the Kansas City Chiefs after going down in defeat, 31-17, in Week 12. It will be all hands on deck against the team on top of the AFC West with reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes.

Here are three key matchups to keep an eye on during the holidays.

Tyree Wilson vs. Chiefs interior line

Antonio Pierce and Patrick Graham have recently concocted a nice wrinkle in the defensive line rotation, which has greatly benefited Tyree Wilson.

The first-round draft pick has made strides in recent weeks, not only as an edge rusher, but as an interior defensive lineman. The Silver and Black have tinkered with four defensive ends playing up front in pass rushing situations. While playing nearly 20 percent of snaps between the gaps in Week 14 and 15, Wilson has accumulated six total tackles, a quarterback sack and a fumble recovery.

"Most rookies start [off well] and then they go down in November, December. His arrow just keeps going up and up," Pierce said. "Each and every week, each and every day in practice you see something and say, 'OK, here we go. This is what we saw on film.' I think it's a credit to him of not becoming mentally weak. ... I think he's done a great job as far as adapting to different roles that we put him in. Sometimes you got to find that niche of that player of what gives him confidence. I think when we moved him inside, put him back outside, you can see the confidence just growing with this kid."

The Chiefs interior offensive line is anchored by 2022 Pro Bowlers Creed Humphrey and Joe Thuney, who both have at least a 76 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus this season. Wilson's length and strength on the line will certainly come in handy for this matchup.

Jack Jones vs. Rashee Rice

Within a short period of time, both Jack Jones and Rashee Rice have worked their way to the top of the depth chart for their respective teams.

Jones has been in the building for a little over a month, having been claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots. The 2022 fourth-round pick from Arizona State started a few games as a rookie last season, and has continued to grow in Las Vegas. In four games played for the Raiders, he's looked the part of a starting outside cornerback, racking up 13 solo tackles, two pass deflections and a highlight-reel interception against the Los Angeles Chargers. He was also the highest-graded defender (94.2) in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in Week 15.

"He studied the tape. ... We've seen that play and we talked about that play," Patrick Graham said of Jones' pick-six. "I think he did a good job of reading it and trusting his instincts, but did I think he had it in him? Yes. I mean, he's an instinctual football player and we try to encourage that as much as possible."

"Now, the one-handed catch that looked like the Michael Jordan kiss the rim (dunk)? That's what I saw," Graham added. "When I kept rewinding it, it made me think of how he caught it."

Jones will have a tough task this week in Arrowhead against rookie Rashee Rice, who has emerged as one of the team's top receivers. The second-round pick from SMU has 68 catches, 754 yards and a team-high seven touchdown catches. The last time Rice matched up against the Raiders in Week 12, he set a career-high for receiving yards in a game (107).

Aidan O'Connell vs. Chiefs defensive line

The juke past the rookie wall that Pierce has been referring to also applies for Aidan O'Connell

No. 4 played lights out in the red zone, notching a career-high four passing touchdowns against the Chargers. It was the first time since 2018 in which a Raiders quarterback threw for at least four touchdowns in a game. Additionally, it was O'Connell's third game without a turnover as the Silver and Black posted a franchise-record 63 points on Thursday Night Football.

As the rookie quarterback prepares for his second game against the reigning Super Bowl champions, he and the O-line will battle the Chiefs defensive line that has helped propel the overall unit to top five in least passing yards allowed, points per game allowed, total yards allowed and sacks. O'Connell's college teammate George Karlaftis leads the Chiefs with nine sacks and All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones is tops on the team in tackles for loss (10) and quarterback hits (20).

Despite how great the Chiefs defense has been playing, O'Connell played some of his best football in his young career against them in Week 12. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 248 yards and a touchdown, with the Raiders jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first half.

"Every week is a new challenge. He's learning every week," interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree said. "From that game and in this prior game, it's protecting the football that was important. Just playing with that ability to play fast and kind of learn from anything that came up in this game and the prior game versus the Chiefs will be important going forward."

As O'Connell's improvement has been on display, his best chance to combat the Chiefs defensive line comes from having help in the trenches. It's yet to be determined if starting offensive linemen Kolton Miller and Andre James will be ready for Monday after being ruled out with injury last week. Notably, Greg Van Roten is enjoying a successful season, with a career-high 80.6 pass blocking grade from PFF and no penalties committed.

The Raiders hosted a Youth Holiday Party for community members from local organizations at Allegiant Stadium to enjoy an evening of holiday fun.

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